Twins manager Rocco Baldelli was sitting on his couch at his apartment in Minneapolis. His fiancée, Allie, laughed as she heard one end of a conversation and realized he was talking not about his American League Manager of the Year award, or his lineup, but his favorite band.
“Yeah, I’m a huge fan of what they do,” he said. “I do love music, and follow, of course, other bands as well, and some historical bands, too. I would say that Phish is clearly my go-to band.”
We all need more music in our lives, now more than ever, and baseball, more than any other sport, comes with a musical score.
Music plays in clubhouses, over the loudspeakers during batting practice and before the game, and every player chooses his own walk-up song. Spend time around the Twins for a few days or decades, and you’ll wind up talking music.
Ron Gardenhire liked funny country lyrics and the Eagles. Paul Molitor took time after his playing career ended to follow Bruce Springsteen around Europe. Terry Ryan spent so much time sitting in bleachers watching batting practice, he could name any song blaring over a loudspeaker within three notes.
Like many of us these days, Baldelli is working from home, seeking good television series and documentaries, and relying on music to soothe his restless mind.
His musical choice is revealing. Phish is a long-running, influential jam band led by guitarist and vocalist Trey Anastasio. Phish is inventive, virtuosic and, to adopt a highly scientific musical phrase, pretty chill. It’s also a band that never cared to swim in the mainstream.
“There is an energy when you walk into an arena or a sporting event, there is this high level of anticipation. You’re happy to be there and be a part of it and experience it with everybody else. It’s a communal event. I think the similarities are vast. And every opportunity I get to go see a band that I love, I do cherish it.”
Baldelli earned the Twins job and the Manager of the Year award in his first season by demonstrating a combination of intelligence and empathy. He will bench a player for analytical reasons, then hold a long conversation with that player, telling him how much he means to the team.
To describe the 2019 Twins simply as a 101-win team is to obscure how many challenges they faced along the way. As of last spring, Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano were thought to be vital. They wound up spending much of the season injured. As of late July, the Twins’ bullpen was a disaster, and throughout the season Baldelli had to call on unknown starting pitchers such as Devin Smeltzer and Randy Dobnak to start big games.
Baldelli managed the way Phish plays: Using every conceivable note, often in unpredictable patterns, and often with a smile.
“I listen to music all day every day, and often it’s Phish,” Baldelli said. “I listen to a lot of other things. A lot of Grateful Dead and Joe Russo’s Almost Dead and Bon Iver, and Fleetwood Mac. Music is playing whether I’m taking a shower or driving to the field.
“Phish is extraordinarily skilled. The interplay and the relationships that they have within the music is phenomenal.”
Ballplayers love musicians almost as much as musicians love ballplayers. The skills are different, the challenge similar: Testing your individual and collaborative abilities in front of a demanding audience in a highly competitive field.
What they have in common is the roar of the crowd.
“There is an energy when you walk into an arena or a sporting event, there is this high level of anticipation,” Baldelli said. “You’re happy to be there and be a part of it and experience it with everybody else. It’s a communal event. I think the similarities are vast. And every opportunity I get to go see a band that I love, I do cherish it.”
Baldelli has seen Phish “about 40 times.” His dog is named “Bowie The Beauceron,” after a Phish song. He has met keyboardist Page McConnell, and has befriended Trey Kerr, the band’s video crew chief.
During the season, when the topic is baseball, Baldelli is friendly but careful, his apparent goal being to say nothing that could offend a player.
This week, realizing the conversation would center on music and entertainment, Baldelli was relaxed and funny, including Allie in the conversation and asking for recommendations. The two of them just finished “The West Wing,” and were big fans of “The Wire.”
Like any baseball fan, he craves time at the ballpark. “I miss being around all of our guys,” he said. “We’re finding ways to stay in touch. Mostly, Allie and Bowie and I are here.
“We go out to get groceries, we jog, we try to get a little sweat going and stay away from most human interaction. I’m very lucky because Allie is cooking me everything you can possibly imagine. Besides that, we’re just trying to find toilet paper.”
Baldelli asked that this column end with a Phish phrase.
“Bag it, tag it, sell it to the butcher in the store,” he said. “Use that one.”
Even Phish can produce an earworm.